Rania Khalek Dispatches from the Underclass

In December outgoing president Donald trump pulled one more shocking foreign policy decision when he recognized Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel.

Western Sahara has been disputed since the Spanish withdrew in 1975 and the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario front, an armed liberation movement, continued until the 1991 ceasefire. Last year the Polisario Front, which is backed by neighboring Algeria, declared the ceasefire over. Most recently, the Moroccans expressed fury after the leader of the Polisario Front was given medical treatment in Spain, and the Moroccans retaliated by unleashing refugees into Spanish territory.

Jacob Mundy is an associate professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Colgate University. He has recently published a report for the European Council on Foreign Relations, where he’s a visiting fellow, proposing creating new solutions to the decades old problem, entitled: “Free to choose: A new plan for peace in Western Sahara.” He joined Rania Khalek’s program Dispatches to discuss this and other areas of his expertise, including Libya and Algeria.

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As Iran prepares for presidential elections, Rania Khalek is joined by Iranian scholar at Columbia University Navid Zarrinnal on her program Dispatches to discuss developments in Iran, from the coming elections to the tumultuous Trump years, relations with the Biden administration, Iran’s role in the region and more.

“Hardliners” vs “Reformists” 2:21

Break down of Iran’s political system 11:02

Do Iranians want to return to the nuclear deal? 20:00

Impact of sanctions 23:36

How do Iranians feel about Palestine? 34:29

Iranian attitudes towards their government’s foreign policy in the region 40:41

How do Iranians feel about closer ties with China? 44:42

Are western and gulf-backed media outlets successful at influencing Iranian attitudes? 48:45

Why is Iran more resilient than Venezuela and Syria against sanctions? 52:28

What did Qassem Suleimani mean to Iranians? 55:52

Iran’s Jewish community 59:46

Navid’s academic and personal background 1:02:44

What is imperialism? Is it a stage of capitalism, as Lenin described it, or was it always essential to capitalism? Can capitalism exist without imperialism? Prahbat Patnaik, professor emeritus at JNU, joins Rania Khalek on her program Dispatches to discuss the argument he lays out in his book A Theory of Imperialism, which argues that capitalism was always a function of imperialism. But today’s imperialism takes a subtler less visible form than during colonialism , keeping large parts of the world in poverty through mechanisms like income deflation so that the wealthy nations can maintain access to the cheap commodities only tropical regions can produce. Imperialism also requires an army of unemployed people in the third world that are even more essential to capitalism than the army of reserve labor in the global north. Patnaik also addresses the democratic socialist ideal of turning America into Denmark but that too cannot happen without imperialism. The Scandinavian countries, he says, need imperialism to thrive because they are not self-sufficient and owe their prosperity to the imperialist system created and maintained by western colonialist powers. Also, is China imperialist? How do sanctions and war fit into this? Is this system planned or is it spontaneous and on autopilot? Are we forever doomed to this system? How do we resist?


0:50 What is imperialism?

28:06 Can we be like Denmark without imperialism?

31:39 India, neoliberalism, Modi, rising fascism and the farmers strike

48:07 Is China imperialist?

51:04 Sanctions and regime change wars

1:01:44 Class politics vs identity politics

1:19:23 Not all third world nationalism is bad

1:23:43 Capitalism is the biggest ally of covid’s killing spree

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PBS Frontline released a long anticipated documentary featuring Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, formerly the head of Jabhat Al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which is now called Hayat Tahrir al Sham, or HTS. Jolani is attempting to rebrand himself and his organization in an effort to be removed from the US terrorism list so he can be legitimized as the leader of Idlib in northern Syria. Has Jolani and his group’s allegiance to al Qaeda really changed? Or is this a sinister charm offensive to maintain and even gain more power with the backing of the West in order to continue his campaign to collapse and takeover Syria and impose an Islamic State no different than ISIS? Did PBS whitewash Jolani? And why do journalists who should know by now the jihadist reality of the opposition to the Syrian government continue to treat them as glorious revolutionaries?

To discuss this and more, Rania Khalek is joined by Theo Padnos, who was held as a hostage of Jabhat Al Nusra for two years, enduring day after day of torture and getting unique insight into the group. He’s also the author of the recently published book Blindfold: A Memoir of Capture, Torture, and Enlightenment.

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Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger has been thrust into an epic battle with one of the biggest oil companies in the world. He helped win a multi billion dollar lawsuit against the Oil Giant Chevron for polluting the Amazon in Ecuador and poisoning the indigenous community who lives there. Ever since then Chevron has waged a relentless and global campaign to avoid accountability and to punish Doziger. In what reads like a Hollywood thriller, a US judge with ties to Chevron has conspired with the oil giant to destroy Donziger’s life. As a result of the case, he has been confined to his home on house arrest since 2019. And there’s a corporate media blackout! Donziger spoke to Rania Khalek on Dispatches from house arrest in New York City, not too far from the New York Times, which has ignored the story. You can support Steven’s case here: https://www.donzigerdefense.com/

Twenty years ago the US launched a war on Afghanistan. Four presidents, $2 trillion, and more than 200,000 Afghan lives later, the longest war in US history may finally be coming to an end without anything the US can call a victory and nothing Afghans can call stability or a future.

So what was this war even about? How did it start in the first place? Is it really ending? What will it mean for Afghans? And what accounts for the hawkish backlash to ending a war that serves no apparent purpose?


President Joe Biden sent shockwaves throughout Washington when he announced the US would be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “I’ve concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home,” he said.

His liberal base is trying to play it up as proof of Biden’s progressive credentials, but it’s more complicated than that. Meanwhile, the chorus of war hawks predictably lost it.

Max Boot, who never met an American war that he didn’t like (nor one he wanted to end), wrote two op-eds warning against withdrawal. The hawkish Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen expressed fears that “a US withdrawal will create a vacuum in the country that China, Russia or Iran will fill.” Retired general and former National Security Advisor HR McMaster, one of the “soldier scholars” whom Americans revere, also condemned the withdrawal as “an extraordinary reversal of morality” that America is “going to look back on with shame.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Biden’s withdrawal “dumber than dirt,” warning that “the result of this decision today by President Biden is to cancel an insurance policy that in my view would prevent another 9/11.” Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, two former secretaries of state, both expressed opposition to the withdrawal, with Rice reportedly warning that the US would likely have to return to Afghanistan.

This sudden concern for the fate of Afghan women was echoed across mainstream media, with Republican Senator John Barrasso telling MSNBC, “This is going to turn the clock back on the women of Afghanistan, girls trying to go to school to get an education will once again be killed.”


The end to the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is long overdue, but the way it is being done will likely only perpetuate the suffering of Afghans.

One longtime expert described the deal as so intrusive and imposing it treats Afghanistan as a colony of the US.

Biden is implementing the February 2020 deal struck in Doha between Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the US State Department, and Mullah Baradar, the Taliban Deputy’s Commander for Political Affairs. It was called the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”, although nobody believes it will bring peace to a country at war for over forty years. At the same time, the US also signed a separate deal with the Afghan government entitled the “Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.” Meanwhile the intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan do not have the word “peace” in their description.

The deal that Khalilzad, or “Zal” as he is called, signed in Doha was an “America first” deal that ignored the interests of the Afghan government or people and prioritized the US while empowering the Taliban. It stipulated a troop withdrawal on schedule, by May 1, 2021. This automatically stripped the Afghan government of its leverage and also meant it would be facing a possible Taliban offensive on May 2. Trump did not seem to care and handed it all to the Taliban from the beginning because he was in such a rush to sign the deal.

The US did not place any conditions on the Taliban, such as achieving progress in their talks with the Afghan government. Instead, the US even proposed an interim government to replace the current elected (if flawed) one. To many observers this looked like a US-backed Taliban coup. And Zal has been promising everyone positions in that new government.

The Taliban had to commit to halting their attacks on the US but they could continue to attack Afghan government forces at a time when those Afghan forces were receiving less US military assistance and less logistical assistance so they could not supply bases and had to withdraw from more of the country. The Taliban also increased their attacks against civilians at the end of 2020. None of this mattered to the US government, which wanted the deal for domestic reasons related to US elections and not in order to leave a stable Afghanistan with a successful peace process.

According to one close observer of the talks, “Zal improvised, lied to everybody (including the UN and Europeans) and it fragmented the non-Taliban space. He doesn’t want to negotiate; he wants an easier path to a Taliban government. The Taliban don’t have a political language. They don’t have language for governing. Even the pro-Taliban people in American spaces say the Taliban have no interest in negotiating. And why would they? They are about to win. But the country will blow up. It’s not the country of the 90s. You cannot just back the strongest actor. There are too many, and the Taliban is not homogenous, and they have not prepared their fighters because they want to maintain cohesion. Nobody has prepared anything, nobody talked about integration of fighters into the security forces.”

Read the rest at Breakthrough News

Joseph Massad, Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, joins Dispatches with Rania Khalek to help break down everything from Israel’s value as an outpost of US imperialism and why the Arab uprisings failed to the recent victory of Palestinian resistance forces and why it’s crucial to incorporate anti-imperialism in our understanding of the Zionist project.

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While it’s not often in the news, the Horn of Africa is volatile and often the scene of violence and its countries are victims of international interventions and interference that has played a destabilizing role, from Djibouti and Eritrea to Somalia and Ethiopia. As western imperialism continues to prop up dictators while blocking any moves towards independence, the western-backed Gulf States are transforming the region into a battlefield against Iran and each other.

Why is this region subjected to so much meddling? How is the new Cold War between the US and China playing out on the ground? And why should Americans care? To help us understand these developments, Rania Khalek is joined by Djiboutian dissident in hiding Abdirahman Mohamed Ahmed, an expert on the Horn of Africa who is both from the region and has a strong leftist background.

The Freedom Side LIVE, we talked Palestine, Police Killings, Belarus skyjacking and the Colombia crackdown 6pm ET on Youtube Guests include: Mark Ames, As’ad AbuKhalil, Cathy Rojas, Zoe Alexandra, Alana Houston & Rana Shubair

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Lowkey joins Rania Khalek to talk Palestine and global resistance to Zionist apartheid. » Become a patron: https://www.patreon.com/BreakThroughNews